“A clever concept that is held back by a long power cord and uneven sound quality.”
- Swappable “art”
- Wall or surface mounting
- AirPlay 2
- Works with the Sonos ecosystem
- Power cable is ugly and awkward
- Can’t display your own art or photos
- Sound quality is average
When Ikea debuted the $199 Symfonisk Picture Frame speaker (its latest wireless audio collaboration with Sonos), two things were immediately apparent: The age of affordable, customizable, and decorative home audio is upon us, and, we still haven’t found a way to eliminate our dependence on power cords.
It’s a bold idea: Try to satisfy the needs of music lovers who simultaneously hate the look of wireless speakers. Does it succeed? We put it to the test.
The Picture Frame enjoys many advantages. It doesn’t look like any speaker you’ve ever seen. Its “art” can be swapped out for several other designs for just $20, and you get lots of placement options: It can be hung on a wall vertically or horizontally, or propped against almost any flat, vertical surface the way you would with an actual picture frame.
Unlike a real picture frame, however, there’s no way to mount your own art or photos, and at the moment Ikea has no plans to offer such a capability. There’s also no plan to do custom silk-screen printing in the event that you don’t like the art that Ikea offers.
It comes with everything you need: In the fully recyclable cardboard box you’ll find the speaker, a wall-mount hook, two rubber feet, a safety tether, and a really long power cord.
If you’re going to use the Picture Frame angled against a wall, setting it up is a snap. Pop the included rubber feet into the appropriate spots in the frame depending on whether you want it to be horizontal or vertical, attach the power cord and route it through one of the many grooves and openings in the back panel, and plug the power cord into a wall socket.
Strangely, Ikea limits you to two of the possible four orientations. Instead of two horizontal options and two vertical ones, you just get one of each. This can be a tad confusing, especially since there are oval openings on all sides — making it look like the rubber feet can go anywhere, but they can’t. Two sets of these openings are just a tad too small to accommodate the feet. Why? I have no idea.
Ikea thinks you should use the included wall tether when using the Picture Frame in this configuration, which may feel unnecessary, but after three fatal incidents of its dressers tipping over, the Swedish company now includes tethers on just about every product it sells that poses even the slightest risk of falling over.
There are options for concealing the cord, but none are ideal.
If you place the Picture Frame on the floor, you probably don’t need to worry about it, but if you place it on a mantle, or any other elevated surface, I recommend using it — the speaker isn’t super heavy, but it could still cause all kinds of damage if it fell.
Hanging the Picture Frame on a wall takes a bit more patience. The included wall hook isn’t like a traditional picture hook. It’s rectangular and is shaped to match up with the two corresponding cavities on the back of the speaker. But this means you can’t nudge the Picture Frame if it’s not level, so mounting that wall hook correctly is really important.
You’ll find a set of physical buttons behind the front face of the speaker for play/pause and volume (they also let you track-skip and join a playing group of speakers). They’re easy to use despite being hidden, but you need to keep their placement in mind when picking a height for wall-mounting. In landscape mode, the controls end up on the top-left corner. If you place the speaker too high, they’ll be really awkward to access.
As expected, when hanging on a wall, the power cord looks pretty bad. Ikea and Sonos deserve some kudos for wrapping the cord in braided material. This diminishes the shiny plastic feel of power cords that accompany most Sonos speakers, and it also lets the cord lie quite flat and kink-free against the wall. In short, it looks as good as a dangling white power cord can look. But it’s still a dangling white power cord.
There are options for concealing the cord, but none are ideal. You could encase the cord in a paintable plastic conduit. You’ll find plenty of these on Amazon. But even the lowest profile conduit will still leave a visible vertical line dropping down from the speaker.
You could pay an electrician to install a power outlet right behind the speaker. Thanks to a massive cavity built into the back panel that has its own retention strap, you can hide the entire cord there. But that will probably cost you as much or more than the speaker, and you could be facing some drywall repairs too.
You may want to try running the cord behind a piece of furniture, but because picture frames are seldom mounted without some space between them and other objects, you’ll likely still end up with at least a little cord showing.
Your cord concealment strategy will matter even more if you avail yourself of the Picture Frame’s ability to daisy-chain two speakers together. Each speaker has a power-in and a power-out port, so you can run both speakers off of a single power outlet. The umbilical power cord needed to do this, which Ikea calls “FÖRNIMMA” is sold separately, but so far, there’s no sign of it on Ikea’s website.
And, since we’re discussing cords, if you want to use the Picture Frame’s built-in Ethernet port, you’ve now got another cord to hide.
Because it’s fully compatible with the Sonos ecosystem and Apple AirPlay 2, it’s got incredible flexibility as a sound system. You can stream music from every conceivable music service, you can group the Picture Frame with other Sonos or Symfonisk speakers in your home, and it can be set up as a stereo pair with a second Picture Frame speaker.
Considering how thin the speaker cabinet is, Sonos has been able to extract a surprising amount of low-end bass.
If you’ve never used the Sonos app before, it guides you through the setup process in a matter of minutes. But for existing Sonos users, it’s even easier. After you plug the Picture Frame into power and fire up the Sonos S2 app, the speaker is automatically recognized and you’re prompted to add it to your system. You don’t even have to press any buttons. Just hold your phone next to the speaker when the app asks you to, and it does the rest. Sonos products have always been incredibly easy to set up, but it’s now totally effortless.
Out of the box, without adjusting EQ or performing Sonos’ Trueplay tuning, the sound is OK, but nothing special. High frequencies feel a bit subdued and the bass lacks punch. But boosting both bass and treble sliders in the Sonos app makes a world of difference and the Picture Frame really comes alive.
For those who are tight on space, or simply hate the way most speakers look, it’s an affordable and easy way to get good sound.
Considering how thin the speaker cabinet is, Sonos has been able to extract a surprising amount of low-end bass. But just a word of caution to help you set your expectations: High frequency sounds like snares, cymbals, and some voices can sound a bit harsh. Sonos designed the tweeter to provide a more expansive sound, but I didn’t find the soundstage especially wide or deep.
The midranges — always a challenge to get just right even on pricier speakers, can lack detail.
I also noticed that as you push the volume north of 75%, the cabinet had a tendency to vibrate a little. This was more noticeable when the speaker was wall-mounted.
If you’re wondering how the Picture Frame sounds compared to the other Symfonisk products, that’s a tough comparison. It packs more punch than the Bookshelf Speaker, but overall, the Table Lamp delivers a more pleasing sound signature, with more warmth and detail.
Being able to place a speaker on a wall, disguised as art, is a great concept, but the Ikea Symfonisk Picture Frame speaker doesn’t quite nail the execution. The power cord is an eyesore and it doesn’t sound as good as a similarly-priced regular wireless speaker. Still, for those who are tight on space, or simply hate the way most speakers look, it’s an affordable and easy way to get good sound in your chosen room.
Is there a better alternative?
Better alternatives for sound include the, , and the . But if your goal is to disguise a speaker as an objet d’art, I’m hard-pressed to think of a better way to go.
How long will it last?
As long as you don’t damage it through a careless installation, (or trip over that power cable), the Picture Frame Speaker should last for many years. Sonos has a (mostly) good track record of keeping its products updated with new software and I expect the Picture Frame will remain a useful part of the Sonos ecosystem for years to come.
Should you buy it?
Yes, but only if you find the Picture Frame’s unique qualities essential to creating your ideal home sound system. Otherwise, I think most people will be happier with one of the other Symfonisk or Sonos products.
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